Loyalty to an organization used to feature high on employees’ priority lists. Today, employees seek meaning more from their actual occupations and less from organizational ideologies. As the Edelman study “2011: Trends in Organizational (Internal) Communications/Employee Engagement” explains: “People are more inclined to self-identify as individuals rather than part of a discrete organization or brand. This is enhanced and encouraged by one’s ability to connect and link to one’s peers and to find self-defined communities.”

Employees want to be engaged at work, but in a way that suits their interests and ambitions. In “The Future of Work: A Journey To 2022,” researchers indicate that people are seeking autonomy and meaning at work, and will therefore see themselves as their own brands.

In another fascinating study on newcomer socialization in organizations, researchers discovered that helping employees focus on their own identities led to greater customer satisfaction and employee retention after six months than socialization that focused on organizational identity or skills training. This insight turns the formula for employee engagement on its head, as most organizations invest heavily on molding newcomers’ mind-sets from the start. It seems that this approach needs to be revisited.

With that backdrop, focusing on employee branding—empowering employees to be brand ambassadors—may produce better dividends for organizations than employer branding—building an organization’s overall reputation. While it may sound counterintuitive, organizations that invest time to brand their employees are more likely to get back commitment and loyalty in return.

Consider these trends:

Despite overwhelming evidence that indicates the opportunity for employee branding, a lot of time and effort unfortunately is spent elsewhere.

One of the Arthur W. Page Society’s seven principles highlights the role of employees and communicators in shaping corporate culture in this new world order:

“Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people. The strongest opinions—good or bad—about a company are shaped by the words and deeds of its employees. As a result, every employee—active or retired—is involved with public relations. It is the responsibility of corporate communications to support each employee’s capability and desire to be an honest, knowledgeable ambassador to customers, friends, shareowners and public officials.”

The results of this shift are already evident. Employees want to do more for organizations. According to a recent Weber Shandwick & KRC Research study, close to 60 percent of employees have either defended their employer to family and friends or in a more public venue—such as on a website, blog or in a newspaper. However, only 30 percent feel deeply committed to their employers because they feel undervalued for their effort.

So, what must leaders and communicators do differently in this new world order?

Let go and co-create. According to the 2013 Wolff Olins’ Game Changers Report, people are looking for ways to play an active part in brand building and they don’t expect a finished product. The report states: “Give people ingredients, rather than the finished article. Consider also building a ‘minimum viable brand’ that people can adopt, adapt and improve. Engage DIYers and give them a platform so that they can become brands themselves.” This will mean that leaders and communicators must learn to let go—not an easy task considering how close they are to the business, and how they feel responsible to control the brand and message.

Help employees absorb and appreciate the brand. In a Gallup study, only about 46 percent of managers and 37 percent of employees were confident what their company did and what their brand stood for. If your external and internal communications are in sync, your brand will be stronger. Interbrand’s “Unlocking the Power of Employees to Drive Success” study states:

Customers experience indirectly the sum total of what’s transpiring inside an organization. If there’s no clarity of purpose around what your brand stands for that seeps into the customer experience. On the other hand, if your people are pulling together, competing constructively and in harmony with an identity well developed and defined, then your customers will experience that positive coherence every time they interact with you.”

In summary, investing in branding your employees will have a significantly higher value for the business than focusing on the employer brand.

First published at Communication World.

About Aniisu K. Verghese

Aniisu K. Verghese is an internal communication expert and author with over fifteen years of experience in the evolving internal communication and social media domains. He currently serves as the corporate communication lead at Tesco HSC. Aniisu blogs on internal communication at Intraskope and conducts workshops on internal communication. He can be contacted at intraskope@yahoo.com.

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